Large mainland populations of South Island robins retain greater genetic diversity than offshore island refuges
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- Boessenkool, S., Taylor, S.S., Tepolt, C.K. et al. Conserv Genet (2007) 8: 705. doi:10.1007/s10592-006-9219-5
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For conservation purposes islands are considered safe refuges for many species, particularly in regions where introduced predators form a major threat to the native fauna, but island populations are also known to possess low levels of genetic diversity. The New Zealand archipelago provides an ideal system to compare genetic diversity of large mainland populations where introduced predators are common, to that of smaller offshore islands, which serve as predator-free refuges. We assessed microsatellite variation in South Island robins (Petroica australis australis), and compared large mainland, small mainland, natural island and translocated island populations. Large mainland populations exhibited more polymorphic loci and higher number of alleles than small mainland and natural island populations. Genetic variation did not differ between natural and translocated island populations, even though one of the translocated populations was established with five individuals. Hatching failure was recorded in a subset of the populations and found to be significantly higher in translocated populations than in a large mainland population. Significant population differentiation was largely based on heterogeneity in allele frequencies (including fixation of alleles), as few unique alleles were observed. This study shows that large mainland populations retain higher levels of genetic diversity than natural and translocated island populations. It highlights the importance of protecting these mainland populations and using them as a source for new translocations. In the future, these populations may become extremely valuable for species conservation if existing island populations become adversely affected by low levels of genetic variation and do not persist.